Saturday, April 22, 2006

A good day.

For the following reasons:

1. Jill called me around 3 pm to alert me to the Bush protest on the Stanford campus. Because you know it's serious when Stanford, previously known as the "hotbed of social rest," forces Pres. Bush to relocate his meeting. The following from Mercury News:

President Bush's visit to Stanford University's Hoover Institution was quickly moved to another location after more than 1,000 protesters converged around the Hoover tower.

The White House said the protesters blocked the only road into the central areaof the campus where Hoover is located, which forced a meeting with several Hoover fellows to be moved to the campus home of former Secretary of State George Shultz, a Hoover fellow who organized the gathering.

The motorcade instead traveled to the house, which is on the outer edge of campus.

The change in plans delayed the president's arrival by about 15 minutes.

Protesters said they were disappointed that the President would not see them and accused the President of sneaking around to avoid them.

We saw helicopters, enforcers in riot gear, a small number of arrests, and tons of great signs, including "Stop Mad Cowboy Disease."

2. Amy's organic and vegetarian dinners on sale at Andronico's.

3. This video of the woefully masochistic and anti-feminist Caitlin Flanagan, who seems to think we should return to a time when women had no choice but to say yes -- to marriage, to staying at home, to having children, to being sexually available at the drop of a hat, to being unable to own property, etc. She comes dangerously close to endorsing men's rights to lobotomize their wives (especially if they aren't putting out -- a high crime in Flanagan's world). Unhinged.

4. Jill came over for a sushi making session -- we made sooo much food. And sooo good. And Jill introduced us to pinot noir, so I finally understand why Sideways endorses it -- amazing. Also: do not be scared away by Japanese candy that comes in a box decorated with little mushrooms. It is actually very good, as the mushrooms are made out of shortbread cookie & chocolate. The parallels between cartoon mushrooms and cartoon Keebler elves boggles the mind... (shortbread fudge stripes, vs. shortbread shrooms with fudge).

5. This song, "I'm the Decider," which is set to the tune of "I am the Walrus" (refers to a recent comment Bush made about Rummy, revealing hubris too massive even for a Greek tragedy).

6. Brought to my attention by Feministe, this line from Pablo Neruda's "Every Day You Play": "I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Science still under attack

I just visited Tennessee Guerilla Women, and had to link to this amazing post on Glamour's story about inaccurate health information coming from the government. I highly recommend reading the Glamour article in full, as it succinctly examines the many ways in which the Christian right is manipulating health information through the gov. in ways which put women at risk. Here are some highlights with commentary:

Dr. Shaber tries hard to separate fact from fiction because, she says, "rumor and hearsay can start to seem real." In the past, she'd sometimes refer patients to government websites and printed fact sheets, or rely on those outlets to help create her own materials. Not anymore. "As a physician, I can no longer trust government sources," says Dr. Shaber. She is not a political activist or a conspiracy theorist; in addition to her own practice, she's Kaiser Permanente's director of women's health services for northern California and head of the HMO's Women's Health Research Institute. Yet this decidedly mainstream doctor and administrator says, "I no longer trust FDA decisions or materials generated [by the government]. Ten years ago, I would not have had to scrutinize government information. Now I don't feel comfortable giving it to my patients."

This should alert us to a problem: doctors don't feel comfortable using government produced health information.

How did it happen? Many prominent figures in science and public health think they know the answer. "People believe that religiously based social conservatives have direct lines to the powers that be within the U.S. government, the administration, Congress, and are influencing public-health policy, practice and research in ways that are unprecedented and very dangerous," says Judith Auerbach, Ph.D., a former NIH official who is now a vice president at the nonprofit American Foundation for AIDS Research. In fact, Glamour, has found that on issues ranging from STDs to birth control, some radical conservative activists have used fudged and sometimes flatly false data to persuade the government to promote their agenda of abstinence until marriage. The fallout: Young women now read false data on government websites, learn bogus information in federally funded sex-education programs and struggle to get safe, legal contraceptives—all of which, critics argue, may put them at greater risk for unplanned pregnancies and STDs.

For anyone who follows the news, this shouldn't come as a surprise. My own gynecologist back home has been outraged about the Plan B over-the-counter debate for the past couple of years. A year ago she was warning me that the block against selling Plan B OTC was entirely driven by rightwing ideology. Turns out she was right (read on)

If it had been left up to the FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee, American women would be able to walk into any drugstore and buy the emergency contraceptive Plan B over the counter (OTC). When the committee was convened in 2003 to review Plan B, a "morning-after" method of birth control that can reduce the odds of pregnancy by 95 percent if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, all 28 members agreed that the drug was safe and effective. The vast majority of them also voted to make it available OTC at any pharmacy. Susan F. Wood, Ph.D., then the head of the FDA's Office of Women's Health, heartily supported that decision.

Because of her focus on women's health, Wood examined the research and closely watched the review process for Plan B, a drug that has been available by prescription since 1999. Among the facts: Several studies showed that it works with few side effects and that making it more accessible does not lead to an increase in unsafe sex or promiscuity. In 2000 alone, the drug prevented approximately 51,000 abortions, according to a Guttmacher Institute estimate. But women who need Plan B often have difficulty obtaining a prescription and getting it filled—hence the need to approve it for sale OTC.

"One member of the panel told me, 'I wish we had data this good on everything that comes before this committee,'" Wood recalls. Fast approval should have been a mere formality.

Great: so we have a drug that prevents thousands of abortions, and somehow the right wing is against it? So this isn't really about preventing unplanned pregnancies, but about making sure that women are forced to carry pregnancies that they do not want. How is this pro-life? Unless by pro-life you mean, pro-unborn life, and against women's lives. Every other objection to Plan B (that it might cause promiscuity, that teens might not follow directions correctly) has been proven wrong and/or shown to be unevenly applied to this particular product.

So we have the FDA board and medical professionals lauding this product, wishing that they always had such "good" data to back up drug decisions... And what happens? Wait for it, wait for it...

But Christian fundamentalist groups like the Southern Baptist Convention and powerful religious conservative organizations like the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America campaigned hard against OTC status by lobbying members of Congress, testifying before the FDA panels and bombarding the agency with letters. They argued that the drug was dangerous, would lead to unsafe sex and would corrupt children. Pia de Solenni, director of Life and Women's Issues at the Family Research Council (a pro-life group that also believes there are "long-lasting negative consequences of premarital sex," including "emotional problems" and "future marital breakup"), also argued inaccurately in a press release that Plan B "will most certainly make [women] ill from an overdose of hormones and potentially cause further complications."

What? WHAT? These accusations fly in the face of the medical studies actually done by professionals without an ideological ax to grind. And they're telling me I'll get "ill" from an overdose of hormones? Excuse me, but wouldn't carrying a pregnancy make me feel pretty ill?? Have these people heard of morning sickness, complications, labor? Plan B is just a higher dose of the same hormones that women take every day (quite safely) in the birth control pill -- somehow I'm not convinced that the possible complications of Plan B are somehow more dire than those of an abortion or pregnancy (Plan B would prevent both).

Did science listen to science? Of course not!

The campaign worked. Rather than rely on the recommendations of its medical advisory board, the FDA delayed ruling on Plan B for nearly two years. Why? Insiders speculated that the delay was, in part, the handiwork of conservative activist and ob-gyn W. David Hager, M.D., an active member of Christian right political groups and the author of As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now. Appointed by the Bush administration to the FDA panel that reviewed Plan B, Dr. Hager first voted with the committee that Plan B is safe and effective, but then went on to write what he termed a "minority opinion," laying out a case against OTC status. Contrary to numerous studies and the review panel's findings, he argued that the drug might not be safe for teens and that they might not understand package instructions. Shortly thereafter, Steven Galson, M.D., a high-ranking FDA official, cited similar concerns in a letter to Plan B's manufacturer—denying the drug approval at that time. Some women's health advocates had hoped that the logjam would break when Lester Crawford, DVM, Ph.D. was confirmed as FDA commissioner in 2005. But last August, Crawford put off a decision indefinitely.

So why, you ask?

Why did Plan B get deep-sixed? According to FDA officials interviewed by the Government Accountability Office, the decision to deny approval for Plan B had been made by top political appointees at the FDA months before staff even completed reviewing the application; many others suggested that pressure from the religious right played a key role.

FDA spokespeople have denied those accusations, but religious-activist organizations crowed about swaying the FDA, and Dr. Hager claimed the decision was God's work. "I was asked to write a minority opinion that was sent to the commissioner of the FDA," he told an assembly at the Christian Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky. "God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision."

If God's work includes meddling in women's lives by pretending to know better than the majority of scientists, then sure, you're doing God's work, Dr. Hager. Were you also doing God's work when you abused your wife? (If you missed it, Dr. Hager's ex-wife, who seems like an incredibly trustworthy woman, has accused him of raping and sodomizing her repeatedly during their marriage. Somehow, I'm more inclined to believe the victim in this case.)

Mainstream medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American College of Emergency Physicians and the American Medical Association, agree that emergency rooms should offer victims EC after a sexual assault. Doing so could prevent the estimated 32,000 pregnancies—and, subsequently, many abortions—that occur as a result of rape. "What person who has been raped would really welcome a pregnancy from that?" says James Trussell, Ph.D., director of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University in New Jersey. "Even if you oppose abortion, what could be better than preventing the pregnancy in the first place?"

So when the DOJ was developing its first-ever guidelines for the treatment of rape victims, an early draft included EC. Yet strangely, in September 2004, when the guidelines were issued, any mention of EC had been deleted.

Yes, what could be better than preventing the pregnancy before it happens? Especially as two recent, impartial studies have confirmed that there is basically no chance of Plan B preventing a fertilized egg from implanting. But most organizations (the WHO included) define pregnancy as beginning at implantation, so this also should be a moot point.

Maya Jacobsen* was one such victim. In fall 2001, she was raped in her room on campus at the University of Denver. After her attacker escaped through a back door, she sat crying on a couch, frightened and stunned. Like many sexual-assault victims, she was too shaken at first to report the incident and waited until the next morning before she drove to the closest hospital, Porter Adventist. She says she spent hours undergoing a sexual-assault exam, but nobody brought up the issue of how she might prevent pregnancy—until she asked.

"I said, 'What are my options here if I become pregnant?' The nurse said I would have to wait to take a pregnancy test, and if I was pregnant, there was always adoption. I said, 'That's it? What about the morning-after pill?' And she said, 'You would need to do that on your own.'" Fortunately, Jacobsen was able to get the drug from a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic later that day.

WHAT? Are we trying to punish women for being the victims of rape?

And here's my favorite section, on the new war on condoms:

It seems that conservative activists saw an opportunity with HPV. Here was a disease connected to cancer against which condoms weren't yet proven effective. The perfect argument against premarital sex, and condoms, was born. "Condoms, whether used correctly and consistently or not, do not prevent the spread of HPV," the Family Research Council warns on its website, going on to note that "HPV has been linked to over 90 percent of all invasive cervical cancers and is the number-two cause of cancer deaths among women." In truth, cervical cancer is only the thirteenth-highest cancer killer of women in the U.S., behind bladder and kidney cancer. In the majority of cases, the immune system fights off HPV before people know they have it. Even when precancerous cells develop, they can be detected early by a Pap smear.

Nevertheless, the HPV fear campaign continued to escalate. Through lobbying and testimony before Congress, the religious right attacked government sex-education programs that included information on condom use. The Family Research Council argued that such programs expose "our youth to incurable disease on a daily basis. Most notable among these diseases is human papilloma virus, HPV." The government appeared to be listening. Until then, the CDC had accurately encouraged condom use as smart safe-sex behavior—but in 2002, around the time of the HPV flap, it backed off. The agency suddenly removed from its website a fact sheet on condoms that stated "laboratory studies show that intact latex condoms are highly effective barriers to…HIV and other STDs" and that told readers how to use them. Later that year, the fact sheet was replaced with one stressing sexual abstinence.

Greeeeaaat. Because we all know how well abstinence works as a permanent way to prevent STDs. Um, what about when people get married and have sex? With the divorce rate, the fantasy that you'll have sex with only one person in your life time is naive at best.

At what point did these people actually get stupid enough to believe that it's better to tell teens not to ever have sex -- knowing full well that they still will -- than to equip them with the information they need to keep them safe?

Glamour has also discovered that blatantly false anticondom information has been incorporated into several federal and state health websites. One, an official Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) site designed for families seeking health information for teens,, suggests that there is no evidence that condom use reduces the risk of HPV infection and downplays its effectiveness against chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Similarly, several states, including Louisiana, Wisconsin, Virginia and North Carolina, have online abstinence programs that link to a site called, which warns that HIV might be able to penetrate a latex condom (patently false), that "condoms offer no protection against HPV infection" (not true) and that "there is no scientific evidence that condoms reduce the risk of becoming infected with the other 23 major STDs" (also false). It even claims that "the Federal Drug Administration [sic] allows up to 4 percent of a batch of condoms to be defective before the batch is rejected!" (Actually, the FDA rejects a batch of condoms if even one-tenth that number are defective.)

How do lies like these become official government health information? Both and get some of their information from yet another outfit, called the Medical Institute for Sexual Health (MISH), which opposes premarital sex and has become a leading provider of the kind of "scientific" data now appearing on government sites.

Lies I tell ya, lies!

For more than a decade, public-health doctors and scientists have charged that MISH generates dubious and sometimes outrageously false data. One example: A 1995 letter from David R. Smith, M.D., then the Texas Commissioner of Health, rebuked MISH for a slide presentation given by founder Joe S. McIlhaney, M.D., to a panel of experts about a proposed sex-education program. Dr. Smith called the show "misleading," "false," "inaccurate" and even "ridiculous." Yet MISH continued to present the same data for years, and in the last two years, the federal government gave the group at least $600,000.

Lies that our tax dollars are working to perpetuate...

Dr. McIlhaney told Glamour that in the early days of MISH, he was still working as a physician, not an academic, and did not have the same access to resources as the now-larger organization does today. Nevertheless, he continues to stress condom ineffectiveness against HPV. "I think our conclusions were right," he says. "I was right on almost all of it, and they were wrong." Yet science does not back him up: Last November the FDA reaffirmed that condoms reduce the risk of every major STD including HPV.

How about preventing HPV even more effectively, then?

Soon, there will be another weapon even more effective against HPV than condoms. The drug company Merck has found that its new vaccine Gardasil is nearly 100 percent effective against the HPV strains that most often cause cervical cancer. Another vaccine, Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, appears to be just as effective.

The world's first anticancer vaccine would represent an incredible scientific breakthrough. But conservative groups began voicing objections as soon as the drugs started making headlines. Sen. Coburn, for one, testified before the House of Representatives that "going after one or two types [of HPV] is halfway," a charge health experts find illogical since the HPV strains prevented by the vaccine account for most cases of cervical cancer.

"The public should be outraged at this misrepresentation of facts for political reasons," says Dr. Holmes. "This really reveals the true agenda for those who have argued that the reason for not promoting condoms is to protect girls against HPV." If you truly cared about HPV prevention, his reasoning goes, you'd be thrilled at the advent of a vaccine to save women's lives. "It really illustrates that the opposition to condoms has nothing to do with protecting women and girls," he says, "but everything to do with opposition to discussion of sexual health."

The movement against the vaccine—Merck's version of which could be approved by the end of the year—has left John Santelli, M.D., chairman of Columbia University's Department of Population and Family Health, mystified. "We have a vaccine that could prevent cancer," he says. "People should be lining up and saying this is a great medical achievement, and yet people are actually opposing it. That's nuts."

Yes, Dr. Santelli, it is nuts. But nutty is as nutty fundamentalists do.

Actually, THIS is my favorite part:

Teens are perhaps the people most in need of trustworthy sexual-health information. Ironically, they are also the most likely to absorb misinformation from organizations like MISH that provide pseudo-science not just to websites but to abstinence-only sex-ed classes in public schools. One reason why public-health researchers now take a dim view of such programs: They may mislead students. In a meta-analysis of abstinence programs published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Dr. Santelli found that such curricula "do not seem to be well designed and have incomplete information, misinformation and questionable information." And last year, the office of Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) examined the most popular federally funded abstinence-only sex-education programs and found that nearly 70 percent of them include "serious medical or scientific errors." Among the wholly inaccurate claims: that up to 10 percent of women become sterile after an abortion and that "premature birth, a major cause of mental retardation, is increased following the abortion of a first pregnancy." Says Princeton's Trussell, "It's an outrage. This is clearly another ideological distortion of what the real evidence shows." Yet such erroneous facts continue to be taught in public school districts in Montana, California, Washington, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

I never thought this was a problem, until I heard intelligent, rational people actually worrying that abortion could cause breast cancer. Just another lie being used by extremists as a weapon in what looks increasingly like a war against women's choice.

As a result, many experts believe abstinence-only programs leave teens unprotected against pregnancy and STDs. "These young women and men who are taught that condoms have a high failure rate say, 'Well they do not work anyway, so why bother?'" observes Kellie Flood-Schaffer, M.D., an ob-gyn and associate professor at Texas Tech in Lubbock, where high-schoolers are taught a strict abstinence-only health curriculum. "I'm a Catholic. I believe in abstinence until marriage. But I'm also a realist. And condoms prevent a huge percentage of STDs and are 90 percent effective against pregnancy."

She has data to back up her strong feelings. Along with Samuel Prien, Ph.D., Dr. Flood-Schaffer conducted a lengthy study that found that among girls under 18, the Lubbock area has quadruple the average national rate of chlamydia—an STD that often goes undiagnosed and that can cause infertility. Why are the rates so high? "It's the education they are not getting," says Prien, who considers himself a conservative Christian. "At least in our area, abstinence-only is not working."

So the right wingers have pushed for this false information, and where does it get us? An increased public health problem, as more people get STDs. Great! Let's use our tax dollars in a way that causes more STD problems that the state then has to deal with, using yet more tax dollars! So much for fiscal conservatism!

More on that lie about an abortion-breast cancer link:

Radical pro-life groups partly base their charge of an abortion-cancer link on research by a biochemist named Joel Brind, Ph.D., but his work—subsidized in part by an antiabortion group called Americans United for Life—has been widely discredited. So scientists protested vigorously when the NCI placed the statement on its website, and the NCI convened a special panel to address the issue once and for all.

The group found no increased risk of breast cancer after abortion—and by spring 2003, the NCI had amended its website to reflect that. But serious damage had already been done. The abortion-breast cancer link had gained airtime: Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate, cited Brind's research to suggest that "abortion increases a woman's risk of breast cancer by 30 percent." And some state governments went further, actually passing laws requiring doctors to tell patients seeking an abortion that the procedure could increase their risk of breast cancer.

"The government allowed people to believe—and encouraged people to believe—that abortions were a risk factor for breast cancer, even when the government knew that this research had been discredited and that better research showed no connection," says Marcia Angell, M.D., a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School in Boston and former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine. She goes so far as to call the pressure from the religious right "a source of corruption."

To date, abortion-breast cancer laws, called "Women's Right to Know," have been passed in Texas, Kansas, Montana and Mississippi. Texas State Representative Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) vociferously opposed such a law, pointing to the scientific evidence that abortion does not raise the risk of breast cancer. But, she says, legislators who "pushed this law, supported this law, were terrified by right-wing Christian organizations. Some of my colleagues said, in confidence, 'I agree with you, but we are told that if we vote with you on this, we are supporting abortion.' They knew this information was invalid. They were frightened. These folks are afraid of this Christian coalition." Why? She says legislators were worried that the groups would mobilize against them in upcoming primaries. Herb Brown, M.D., an ob-gyn and faculty member at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, says these laws "put doctors in a terrible position. You have to show a pamphlet produced by the state to the patient and explain that it is part of the regulation. The conversation I have is that, 'This is what is written in the pamphlet. I disagree with it ethically and scientifically, but this is what the legislation has forced upon me.' That's all I can say… If I want to be consistent with the law, I have to lie."

So... we're going to make doctors lie to patients so that they'll do what we want out of fear (have a forced pregnancy).

It's extremely rare for a scientific conference to turn into something more like a political rally. "Scientists do not normally engage in what is going on in Washington, D.C., or politics," says Wood. But at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last February, a special conference was added to the agenda to discuss how politics have invaded the realm of science.

It quickly became a standing-room-only event, and scientists applauded as speakers like Wood and Nobel winner David Baltimore, Ph.D., president of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, condemned the government's interference in research.

Thank God there are still intelligent people working against the attacks on science.

For a group of researchers, the rhetoric was fiery. Baltimore accused the Bush administration of suppressing science. And when Wood said that morale at the FDA had sunk to a new low because of overwhelming pressure from social conservatives, she got a standing ovation.


Outside of the halls of science, who are the real victims of this political maneuvering? "The American public, particularly American women," says Trussell. "Who's hurt when you can't get EC over the counter? When there is a suggestion that abortion causes breast cancer—something that is entirely made up? When it's suggested that condoms are not effective against STDs, when in reality they are effective against HIV and even HPV? Women."

But many women can't imagine how these lies could possibly have an impact on them, Trussell says. "The first time one of them walks into a pharmacy and can't get her birth control pill prescription filled, that will have a wake-up effect. Most won't feel the effects until these rights are gone—they can't believe there would be a time when these things would be outlawed. I hope their belief is true, but I'm very worried."

Brian Alexander is a contributing editor to Glamour and the author of Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion.

I'm very worried, too, especially with reports of pharmacists refusing not only to fill Plan B prescriptions, but also other more common drugs:

Cedar River Clinics, a women's health and abortion provider with facilities in Renton, Tacoma, and Yakima, filed a complaint with the Washington State Department of Health this week alleging three instances where pharmacists raising moral objections refused to fill prescriptions for Cedar River clients. The complaint includes one incident at the Swedish Medical Center outpatient pharmacy in Seattle. According to the complaint, someone at the Swedish pharmacy said she was "morally unable" to fill a Cedar River patient's prescription for abortion-related antibiotics. Cedar River's complaint quotes its Renton clinic manager's May 17, 2005, e-mail account: "Today, one of our clients asked us to call in her prescription... to Swedish outpatient pharmacy. [We] called the prescription in... and spoke with an efficient staff person who took down the prescription. A few minutes later, this pharmacy person called us back and told us she had found out who we were and she morally was unable to fill the prescription." (Cedar River thinks their client eventually got her prescription filled.)

Because it's soooo pro-life and morally upstanding to deny a woman treatment for an infection. Better that the woman die, right? That's totally what Jesus would do. In fact, when people were stoning a prostitute, didn't he throw the last stone? Oh, wait...

Cedar River's complaint, dated April 10, summarizes: "In each of the situations, we believe the pharmacist displayed behavior that was biased, unprofessional, and unethical. We are concerned that this type of poor treatment may be becoming a trend."

Yeah... so if they aren't doing their job, how about firing them?

The complaint also includes an incident from November 2005 in Yakima, in which a pharmacist at a Safeway reportedly refused to fill a Cedar River patient's prescription for pregnancy-related vitamins. The pharmacist reportedly asked the customer why she had gone to Cedar River Clinics and then told the patient she "didn't need them if she wasn't pregnant."

Having been to Yakima, and frequented many a Safeway (maybe even this Safeway), I'm appalled. So, now pharmacists want to protect their consciences from helping a woman and her fetus have a health pregnancy? Because, clearly, this woman believed she'd go to hell if she actually gave the vitamins to this pregnant woman. And by the by, since when does a pharmacist get to look at me and decide whether or not I'm pregnant, despite a prescription? And why would anyone have a problem with giving a patient freaking vitamins??

If this is just the tip of the iceberg with what we'll see if pharmacists gain the right to refuse to do their jobs... then I think we should all be very, very worried.

And shouldn't we all be worried, when, as the Tennessee Guerilla Women point out, Glamour, not the government, is the source trying to get accurate health information to women?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Pres. Bush reveals (again) complete ignorance

A must see video of Pres. Bush playing what some call the "Good Ol' Boy" act ad nauseam.

The whole "I don't know" act is getting really tired. What I want to know is, why are Pres. Bush and the audience laughing at the fact that our president -- the man who led us into a war with Iraq -- can't answer straightforward questions about what laws the private military contractors are supposedly following in Iraq?

Via Shakespeare's Sister.

Commercials & Benzene in soda

Andrew, take note:

Benzene is a common industrial chemical that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as a human carcinogen. Long-term exposure can cause leukemia and other blood cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Benzene isn't an ingredient in soft drinks, but it can form when two commonly found ingredients react: ascorbic acid, otherwise known as vitamin C, and the preservatives sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate. The reaction can happen when products are exposed to light or heat.

"Soft drinks that contain ascorbic acid and sodium or potassium benzoate include Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry, Fanta Orange, Hawaiian Punch, Mug Root Beer, Pepsi Vanilla, Sierra Mist, Sunkist and Tropicana Lemonade, among others," the letter said.

The signatories, who included experts in pediatrics and activists for student health, asked that state and local education officials halt the marketing and sales of certain soft drinks in schools "until you can look parents in the eye and assure them that their children will suffer no harm."

So soda not only causes problem for teeth & obesity, but also for cancer risks. Great! Only in sodas such as Pepsi & Coke can you find an alluring mix of nutrition-robbing corn syrup, fake coloring, fake flavoring, questionable fake sweeteners, and now, carcinogenic benzene! Yum!

And even more pressing still, why are kids being targeted & lured with soft drinks?

Interestingly, the NYT ran this article a few days ago:

A bipartisan group in Congress plans to introduce legislation today that would prohibit the sale in school not only of French fries but also of other fatty or sugary foods, including soft drinks.

Under the bill, an amendment to the National School Lunch Act, high nutritional standards would be required of all food sold on school premises. That means not just in cafeterias but in vending machines, school stores and snack bars as well, even at fund-raising events.

The measure, which has strong bipartisan support in both houses, would do on a national level what many school districts have been trying to do for years: require that the schools set an example by providing only healthful food and so perhaps reduce the incidence of childhood obesity.

And Thursday night, as I was watching the OC in my room (turns out I DO get Fox, but only if I move my TV to my kitchen floor), I was shocked to see a commercial actually advocating for children's health. You know something's wrong when that's a shock, right? So the commercial (as I remember it) shows a child at the table, and involves the decision of his parent as to whether or not to feed the child fatty cookies. And the voice over actually addresses the health risks of fatty, sugary foods being marketed and fed to children. I was relieved to hear this TV announcer voice of reason noting the fact that such bad eating habits can "take years off your child's life." I actually had to do a double-take: there was a commercial on a national channel warning AGAINST buying sugary snacks? Was I still in the U.S.?

I give a resounding YES! to this tactic. Finally. People clearly need this message. Tuesday night, as I was riding the bus back from Trader Joe's, I watched as a young couple FED THEIR BABY PEPSI. This child was maybe 18 months, definitely not even two years old yet. And they were tipping a bottle of soda into the child's mouth. What the f*#! is wrong with people and the advertising monster in this country?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Jack Hitt's Article

Jill at Feministe has done an amazing job of commenting on Jack Hitt's "Pro-Life Nation," which came out in today's NYT Magazine. It's a must read. Completely chilling, as I've commented on before, especially (for me) the complete criminalization of women for attempting to control their own bodies, and the elevation of the fetus's life over that of the woman (misogyny at its best, folks, when you'd rather wait till the ectopic fetus self-terminates and bursts a woman's fallopian tubes -- a medical emergency akin to a burst appendix -- than treat the woman as a being in defense against this doomed pregnancy and save her reproductive organs & body from such trauma). And lest you think the US would be any more enlightened in their policies that reveal hatred and indifference toward the lives of women, Jack Hitt includes this from Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer (head of Human Life International), who is on the record as saying that "El Salvador is an inspiration."

As you'll see in Jill's response, such government policies haven't stopped abortions:

But despite that illegality, abortion remains common throughout the continent. Brazil, for example, has a higher abortion rate than the United States. In some Latin American countries, one out of every three hospital beds is filled with a woman suffering from a botched illegal abortion.

Women’s empowerment and reproductive rights are deeply and inexoribly related. Anti-choice activists aren’t interested in “saving babies,” or they’d be pushing for wider contraception access and universal healthcare. Instead, they’re willing to say anything — and I mean anything, no matter how obviously dishonest — in order to keep women indentured as servants to their biology.

Quite the inspiration. Why do anti-choicers still vehemently believe that a draconian law will suddenly change the abortion rate? Most women aren't in favor of handing their uteruses over to the state and elevating a potential life above their own health, safety, and freedom. Apparently, even in countries where they're told everyday that their bodies don't really belong to them, women are still not obeying this law. Do we really want to follow El Salvador as the "inspiration"?

Abortions the righty politicians aren't interested in

Just ran across this story about prison-like working conditions endured by Asian guest workers in the Commonwealth of the North Mariana Islands. Interestingly, there are accusations of forced abortions -- but of course we don't hear many politicians worrying about this, despite these charges coming under the US flag.

Via Bitch Ph.D.

Friday, April 07, 2006

El Salvador: The GOP model for US abortion policy?

This is all over the feminist blogosphere. Listen to Rachel Maddow's interview with Jack Hitt (who knew there exists a title "Vagina Forensic Specialist"?). No exceptions: life of the mother, rape, incest... Nothing. As explored in the interview, if a woman has an eptopic pregnancy (ie didn't implant in the uterus, no chance of the embryo developing and surviving), in El Salvador they have to wait until the fallopian tube actually bursts -- causing the need for a "very dangerous medical procedure" akin to waiting for an infected appendix to actually burst before operating, which would be RIDICULOUS -- before operating. So they know that the embryo will not develop and is a risk to the mother's health and life, but they don't operate, because that would terminate a supposed human. And apparently women aren't entitled to self defense if the "offender" is in her own body. Clever!

Best line: "The complete criminalization of abortion in South Dakota, I'm sorry, El Salvador!"

If the U.S. starts traveling this road, we'll soon see the possibility of "forensic vaginal searches" for every miscarriage, women criminalized with up to 30 years in prison for terminating pregnancies they can't financially support, and women being forced to put their own health and life at risk in favor of carrying often doomed pregnancies. One more reason why "abortions should be safe, legal, and rare."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The longest time

I can't even cope with how long it's been since I last posted. BOO me.

Spring break was amazing. And since I left early for WI and then returned to campus approximately 9 hours before classes started, it seemed like it lasted forever.

If you're interested in the details...

Weds: Event of the day was a free ticket. I woke up at 6 am and got myself to the airport way early, and then opted to stay even longer in order to get a free ticket voucher. But I figured that, for all the times that I've sat at airports waiting during blizzards for de-icing sessions, or wondering why my flight is mysteriously 2 hours delayed, or circling in the air waiting for a runway, that I should really go for a free ticket when I've got the chance. So I hung out in the SF airport, and later in the Chicago airport, where I cleverly drank a huge cup of tea right before boarding. No huge problems, and I arrived in Madison, where Andrew was expecting me, and my luggage was right there waiting for me. Such fun. We went home, and I watched OC episodes that I'd missed during finals craziness while Andrew rolled tons of sushi.

Thursday: It freaking snowed. But: Andrew brought home bread, and we satisified my intense craving for grilled cheese, with some AMAZING Amy's organic tomato bisque on the side (I brought two cans home with me in my suitcase. It was that good). Then it was off to the airport (which is like, 15 minutes away from Andrew's apartment), and we flew to NY.

Friday: City day! Ate bagels in Hastings, caught the train to NYC, and wandered around in the village all day. I got a free pair of contacts since I'd forgotten mine in Madison, and we found this wonderful Thai place (Isle on Bleeker) where we caught the lunch special. Their sink was amazing -- a washstand and a shell to catch extra soap. Saw the dogs playing in the park... so cute. I searched in vain for shoes at a number of stores, but did manage to secure a pashmina for $5. We just caught the train back and had dinner with Andrew's father at his favorite restaurant. Later, Jon and Jen arrived, and we had to tear Andrew away from watching "Conviction."

Sat: The four of us (Jon, Jen, Andrew, me) went to Mount Parnesse for brunch. But wait, it's closed! Crisis. So we went to Mont Olympus, which was nearby, and even SHINIER. Mirrors EVERYWHERE. I'm told that this is a representative Greek diner. Everything sparkled. Mirrors in the entry way and on the ceiling, silver embelishments, liquor bottles, glass... overload. Good challah french toast w/ strawberries, though.

Later, we had Andrew's grandparents' 60th anniversary party at this nice Italian restaurant. We had an enlightening conversation with Andrew's Grandma Hilda, who had ordered shrimp in a garlic sauce and had leftovers to take home -- shrimp not being kosher -- but keeps a kosher kitchen:

Grandma Hilda: I'll eat it on paper plates (explains how she keeps disposable dishware for just such occasions).

Andrew's brother: So what's more important, that you eat kosher, or that your kitchen is kosher?

Grandma Hilda: The kitchen of course.

We had another argument over whether or not there was actually garlic in the garlic wine sauce, which was solved (despite Grandma Hilda's protestations that she couldn't taste the garlic) when Andrew AND his brother sampled it, and pointed out large chunks of straight garlic.

After dinner, we went to Ann's for a lovely reception with yummy cake. Speech times and conversation, all that jazz.

Back at the house, it was our quality time over Law & Order and Mythbusters

Sun: Back to Mont Olympus for brunch, and then Jon and Jen had to leave. Andrew & I got ready to go (ie Andrew did tax and computer stuff with his Dad, while I packed our stuff), and then it was back to the airport. Had an awesome scrabble game (Andrew would have won if I didn't make him put a word somewhere else, but as it played I won by the swing tiles he had leftover at the end), and I wrote thank you letters. Had a quick stop, where we ate Subway for dinner (yum veggie delite), and then boarded a plane with a horribly annoying sports team that included a couple of girls who couldn't stop coughing. Normally this wouldn't be so bad, but during my finals induced madness, I actually watched the beginning of a HORRID 90's movie called Killing Moon. The premise is pretty straightforward: an engineered killer virus is loose on a plane, and it's wiping everyone out. The main symptom? COUGHING. And then blood spurts out of your eyes and/or mouth and nose and you're dead. So coughing on the plane not so cool.

Back in Madison, we had a hell of a time finding Andrew's car. Not that there were so many places to check in the little airport. I suddenly realized how cold it was... even compared to NY.

Mon: Shopping day! Hit State St., the mall, grocery store. Caught up on tv shows over mango curry.

Tues: I slept in while Andrew went to class. Worried about taxes. Andrew got back and tried to calm me down. Then we had a nice walk down to the lake, and spotted a muskrat swimming along the shore. We tried to follow him, but he ended up going beyond the dock without landing on the shore. Maybe the model battleship someone was playing with (remote control) scared him off. More shopping, & pesto for dinner.

Weds: Headed to New Glarus to see where they make the amazing Spotted Cow beer. Cool brewery. The Swiss town was closed, unfortunately, although we did get to sample a fairly good brownie at the bakery. Andrew drove us in the opposite direction with his amazing inner compass, so we actually saw the woods where we're going hiking this summer (and beyond). For dinner I orchestrated an enchilada making session -- yum! For dessert: Cold Stone, where I got my usual cake batter w/ yellow cake smooshed in & whipped cream. YUM.

Thurs: Slept in, and then when Andrew got back from class, we were off. Did some thrift storing... I found an Ann Taylor sweater (in petite small, no less!) for $2. Splurged (ie spent about $23) on a vintage looking top (ironic, right? bought that new, and the sweater vintage) & on-sale heels. Also: JEANS THAT FIT AT GAP. Which means that they were not on sale, because they always are out of my size in ankle by the time things go on sale. To reward Andrew for his amazing patience and assistance, I then got us Starbucks.

Fri: As the brunch place was already done serving breakfast at 11:30, Andrew and I did our own. Yummy cinnamon swirl french toast w/ fried apple. Then, believe it or not, I got my hair cut!!! Went to the trendy place Cha Cha where Andrew got his emo shag trimmed. The stylist was not happy with me: first for not having a hair style despite having stylish shoes & jeans (both of which he commented upon), and then for using sun-in. But I'd rather use sun-in than expose myself to carcinogenic coal tar (found in most hair dyes). Rather funny: he was having trouble combing through the ends, so we decided to just chop them off instead. He said he had a feeling it was going to be a really good haircut, and I was delighted. Shorter, and layers, and side bangs... and it's sooo easy to take care of. And my hair actually moves and seems happy and I can run my fingers through it again without getting caught in snags. And under $50 even with tip: not bad since I haven't had a professional cut in 3-4 years!

Later, I got to go out in public to test drive the look... Andrew's dept was doing its own admit week, so we went to the party. Very cool, re-met people, met others, and, most importantly, got to see Annie from MHC!!! We didn't stay too late, as we made brunch plans for the next morning.

Sat: Brunch with Annie at Lazy Jane's, which was awesome. And then some more thrift storing. Later, we watched Walk the Line (incredible, now am listening to Johnny Cash) and Andrew made more sushi. I'm having difficulties with meats, and didn't have an appetite for the smoked salmon, which I partly picked out. We did get some work done, and also had time to meet up with Andrew's friend John for cheesecake and coffee (or in my case, herbal tea at that hour). Back home, Andrew beat me at Trivial Pursuit, but I didn't care because I was having the best dark beer from New Glarus -- Bock.

Sun: Went to the Indian buffet for brunch (yummy, next time will go later in the day and eat more), and then watched Matchpoint at the AWESOME second run movie theater (2.75$ a movie -- we're going to be there all the time this summer). Matchpoint was amazing, greatly enjoyed it.

Later, watched tons of good tv, ate pasta, and cuddled. Very sad!

Mon: Breakfasting & walking by the lake despite the wind (people were actually windsurfing on the freaking lake, it was so windy) and lunching and a trip to Target to make sure Andrew had everything he needed and then to the airport. Ahh! I hate leaving. And of course somehow the airlines had managed to completely f&#! up their schedules, so flights were canceled (including the one I was supposed to be on, a fact which student universe cleverly didn't alert me to) and ridiculously delayed. I was on a flight that left around 7:30 pm, and was supposed to have left before 4 pm. Crazy. And there were NINE OF US. Nine! Plenty of space, which was nice.

In Chicago, I basically retraced my steps from F to C, passing by like 5 Starbucks in the process. The next flight was likewise empty, we nearly all had 3 seats to ourselves. So I stretched out, and was quite comfy, but couldn't fall asleep. Nerves? Being in a plane? The green tea I'd had earlier? The awesome music on my iPod that I couldn't possibly miss by falling asleep? Hard to say, but I didn't drift too far into sleep.

Got into SF late, and took the first van that was available... a bit pricey, but it's hard to be picky when it's 1 am and you've got class in 10 hours.

Anyway, classes have been going well -- it's crazy as usual figuring out what to take... Methods and Materials, Enigma of Victorianism ad hoc, Sublime and the Ugly, Postmodern Fiction, Medieval Survey, Explanation/ Interpretation... Think I'm going with Victorianism & Sublime, and hoping to TA for Masterpieces. Tuesday was busy -- after class I had to go grocery shopping, make dinner (pesto, yum), unpack, mop the floors, dust... Then it felt more like home again.

Weds, also crazy. Class at 10 am, then a nap at home & lunch, then back to campus till 5 pm, then taking the last admit to James's, Chinese food & party, then socializing with Sarah & co. till the wee hours. So fun! Met physicists, and a poli sci fifth year (awesome woman), and a fellow seven sister w/ a sister at MHC. Today was amazing. Moretti's lecture was perfect -- I loved actually learning rather than just having a round table discussion. MHC was all about discussion, and I'm realizing the benefits of playing the sponge. Then lunch, and it was time for Postmodernism -- another lecture, and they're reading V. I'd love to re-read it, but I'm thinking if anything I'll just audit the first couple of weeks. I know it's not going to be my subject area, but I do love Pynchon and DeLillo and I realized they're reading Canclini, theory which I worked with back in the day at MHC when I was writing on Castillo's So Far From God (amazing novel). But... everything else will be way helpful for me figuring out if I'm in the 19th century, and getting a handle on it.

After, I hung out with Jill & did the reading for our 19th century reading group. It was AMAZING. I had no idea how cool a reading group really could be. We had Indian take out, concocted a schedule (I get to investigate Goth/horror & Bram Stoker & help with Housman & the Invention of Love play & its references to Jerome K. Jerome (which I seem to forget how to pronounce!)) Can't wait!! I so so miss Stoppard. And I am so excited about really feeling like I have a better background in Victorianism. And what could be more awesome than hanging out with everything over dinner & discussing?

This was our "dessert": The BBC cartoon of Charles Dickens.